The Blow-Off – an Imago story

He ran down the filthy back alley, stopping at the intersection to look behind. He knew he was being pursued – one of the enforcers for the cult was after him. It was revenge that drove them, he knew – the guard had somehow found the cult and arrested most of them for demon worship and human sacrifice (the latter was the actual crime), and now those that remained were looking for their betrayer.

But it wasn’t me, he repeated to himself.  Yes, he’d run away when they were about to perform the first sacrifice, but he hadn’t told anyone. And now Greldo Corbuck was a wanted man. The guard was looking for anyone who’d been part of the cult, and the remaining free cultists were looking for him, blaming him for their downfall. And the two enforcers, the drow and the wizard, had both escaped! Which meant they could probably track him down and kill him.

He was so intent on running that he didn’t see the tripline, and went down on his face in the muck. He tried to scramble to his feet, but felt a boot on his back.  His bladder let go as the low feminine voice, which he knew came from a dark-skinned, ruby-lipped mouth, whispered, “Don’t get up, Greldo.”

Then something hit him in the back of the head, and as it went to black, he knew he wouldn’t have a chance to.

Elvanshalee Teken’duis, use-name Imago, sighed. It had taken the better part of the evening to find this fool, but at least he hadn’t fought back too hard. She tucked the enchanted blackjack into the pouch she kept it in, and drew a scroll from another one. A brief moment to focus, and she felt the spell’s effect take hold. Before it did, she grabbed Greldo’s collar, and then the spell whisked her away.

As her vision cleared, she saw Irdanthan sitting in the chair he always carried (usually using a spell to shrink it down when he was moving from place to place. He looked up from his book (another trashy grimoire of things with succubi, she always thought, even though she didn’t know for certain), and smiled. “I see you found him.”

She nodded, then used her own personal magical talents to clean her boots of whatever had been in the alley. “Xas. He was running from us.”  She cast the spell again on Greldo, removing the muck and stench from his clothes, and removing the stain from when he wet himself.

“Good. One last thing to clean up before the blow-off.” Irdanthan rose, walked over, then bent down. “He’s just unconscious, right?”

Imago rolled her eyes. “I’m a professional, mal’ai. Besides, I used the sap.”

He smirked, then pulled up his hood, cloaking his face magically in shadow. “Let’s wake him up.”

Imago reached into another pouch and pulled out a small tube, uncapped it, and waved it under his nose. The smelling salts roused him immediately, and he released a small screech of terror as his eyes snapped open and he saw who it was. “Oh god, I didn’t betray you, please don’t kill me!!” Tears ran from his eyes as he took a breath to beg.

“We know you didn’t, Greldo,” Irdanthan’s voice came from the hood, the cloaking magic disguising his voice as it did his face. “Because we did,” the mage added, gesturing at Imago as well.

That stopped him. “YOU did? I’ve been running for nothing?”

“Well, no,” Imago said. “There’s people looking to kill you so you can’t say anything if anyone mentions you are a former member. But we’re cleaning up after ourselves, and that means you get to live. Somewhere else, but…”

Greldo’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”

Irdanthan and Imago glanced at each other. Greldo hadn’t been the sharpest sword in the armory, yes, but this was slow even for the usual cultists.

“We’re leaving town and moving you with us,” Irdanthan explained, speaking slowly, as if to a child. “We’re going to drop you off somewhere with some money. You’re a skilled leatherworker, you can set up shop. Pick a different name, and live out your life.”

“My life is here!”

“Your death is here if you stay.” Imago dropped that flatly. “We have your tools and we’re ready to go. You get the time for us to pick up our bags to decide.”

“Wait, wait,” he said. “Why did you do this? Why betray them? Why save me?”

Another shared glance, and Imago gestured at Irdanthan. “We’re professional grifters. We join the cults, who are glad to have a mage and his violent bodyguard as part of it, and then once we have everything in place, steal their money and turn them in to the authorities. We get money, they get arrested, the guard get a public victory, everyone is happy except the lower planar cultists.” He spread his hands. “And you’re going to be killed, and I feel slightly guilty about that, so we’re going to get you out of here.”

“We don’t usually care, but he’s soft-hearted today,” Imago added. Then she hefted a backpack and tossed a second one to Greldo. “Your tools.”

“Where are we going?” the leatherworker said as he hitched the backpack on his shoulders.

“Nowhere near here,” Irdanthan replied, then cast his own teleportation spell, and they were gone.

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